A day of redemption for Alex Smith


A day of redemption for Alex Smith


SAN FRANCISCO -- Alex Smith turned the corner with the ball, ran a few steps and broke into a smile. He was going to score the winning touchdown in the biggest game of his life and assure that he would never buy a drink in San Francisco ever again.

And that was 121 seconds and two touchdowns too early for what he would ultimately feel.

As the West Bay and pockets of the rest of the Bay Area throbbed with the stunned joy of Saturdays 36-32 NFC divisional playoff win over New Orleans, Smith bought himself a perpetual get-out-of-anything card with what even the most cynical person would call the game of his life.

And in doing so, took the rest of the 49er franchise with him.

History, Vernon Davis, who caught the actual game-winning touchdown, would later call the beast that was slain Saturday. Just history. Going through what we all went through. It was a win over history, over no, over cant.

And nobody on the 49er roster has had more of each than Smith.

To be sure, this game defied literally every word that tumbled from every pundits lips this week. Nothing we believed would be true turned out to be true, in any facet of the game, which made the final quarter and its heaps of Did that just happen? plays the perfect metaphor for everything we dont know about the most over-analyzed sport on earth.

So ultimately it should have fallen to Smith, the callused campaigner, to end up the best magician of all. As much as Justin Smith was the dominant defensive player on the field, as much as Donte Whitner clocked people with great force from every angle, as much as Davis had the game of his life . . . this was the game in which Alex Smith stabbed every last demon to death.

This was the one where every fault, every fumble, every pick and every defeat could be negated with Yeah, well I got this one. And the argument ends there.

Smith didnt handle the game or even manage it; the game became unmanageable well before the fourth quarter, and was nearly a full-on piefight by the end. What Smith did, rather, was own the game -- flat own it, as though he was Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning.

He engineered an 80-yard go-ahead touchdown drive and an 85-yard winning touchdown drive in the final four minutes. He did it by finding Davis in single coverage for 37 yards and then later for 47, and he did it with QB 9, the running play that took him 28 yards to the end zone, the last 15 with that smile on his face.

And he did it with Vernon Post, the little slant from the left in which he hit Davis in stride at the goal line and let the tight end plow over Saints safety Roman Harper, who wandered around afterward free from his faculties due to the force of the collision.

Guys were so confident, Smith said afterward, surely fibbing just a bit, that as long as we had time we had a shot.

In fact, that might have been the enduring moment of this game, in the same way that the picture of Dwight Clark leaping into the air over Everson Walls 30 years ago was the enduring moment of the NFC championship game.

I knew I had to throw it hard, Smith said of the touchdown pass with the cold precision of the mechanic whose shirt he seemed to be wearing. I knew it was going to be a bang-bang play, (so) I had to stick it in there.

But while people stumbled over what to call the touchdown -- head coach Jim Harbaugh leaned toward The Throw And Catch while Davis vacillated between The Grab and the slightly more lyrical if derivative Catch 2, the actual moment that will last is the smile on Smiths face when he turned the corner on the touchdown run that made it 29-24 .

It was the moment when Smith saw the block from Kyle Williams that sprung him (I knew I was going to get the first down, and thats really all I was after) and then the field of open space before him that made the first down a meaningless achievement. It was the moment when he must have felt free at last.

And maybe it was the moment that allowed him not to give in to historical gravity when the Saints retaliated with the 66-yard touchdown to Jimmy Graham with 1:37 left. He had felt triumph in a game that finally mattered, and he believed he could feel it again.

He would need others, to be sure, as all quarterbacks must, but as Davis said afterward, This was just a lot of stress over the years, a lot of doubt, a lot of criticism, especially for Alex . . . I want to see him successful. I just want all good things to happen for him.

He means like Saturday, when the last question was answered, and his abuse-filled apprenticeship ended for good. He kicked historys ass, and helped kick-start the history that is just beginning to unfold.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Internet immediately goes to DefCon1 on Chip Kelly-to-Cal


Internet immediately goes to DefCon1 on Chip Kelly-to-Cal

In what can be considered your standard bolt out of the blue, California head football coach Sonny Dykes has reportedly been fired.

In what can be considered your standard spur-of-the-Internet-moment-connect-the-dots inspiration, the Internet went immediately to DefCon1 on Chip Kelly-to-Cal rumors.

The logic, of course, is impeccable. Dykes never really snapped the Cal program around, taking a bad program and making it, well, mediocre, and he has spent much of the past two years aggressively seeking out other jobs, so one can assume there was at least some trouble in paradise, even if you want to make the case that Cal football and paradise are somehow connected.

And Kelly just got canned by the 49ers as part of Jed York’s latest I-will-not-be-made-to-look-ridiculous twitch, so he could sign a properly modest contract at Berkeley and still get his full $6 million with the offset from the three years left on his Jed deal.

So it makes perfect sense . . . which is why it should be judged with considerable skepticism.

For one, Kelly can almost surely do better in the college job diaspora. Cal is a big name with modest ambitions due in part to constant budget constraints, and there are better jobs out there even if he sits for a year.

For two, Cal and Kelly are an odd fit, given the persistent tensions between academia and athletica at Berkeley.

For three, the job comes with massive roadblocks, including Stanford, USC, Washington and (potentially) a resuscitation of the Oregon he left behind. Success will not come easy, if it does at all.

For four, Cal just finished four years of gimmick offense and overburdened defense, and Kelly would provide a more successful version of the same.

And for five, this is too easy, too simple, too convenient. Something about this scenario must be wrong somewhere. When people hit the Internet with photoshopped Kelly-in-Cal-costumes within minutes of the Dykes announcement, you know this is too obvious to actually come to fruition.

Why? Because we don’t live that well, that’s why.

The beauty of a triumphant Kelly at Cal glowering down at the charred ruin in Santa Clara seems more appealing than it actually is, because try as they might, Cal fans will never be backing the more popular horse here, and Kelly won’t win that battle unless he takes Cal to the Rose Bowl while the 49ers are still grappling over draft positions.

In that way, reality sucks. The idea that Jed York could be mocked in collegial absentia by his two biggest coaching hires is delicious but almost surely illusory.

But until we get more on why Dykes got canned 43 days after the team’s last game – recruiting, academic issues, legal issues, photocopier problems from him sending his resume out so often – all we have is the Chip Kelly rumor-ette to keep us intrigued.

Okay, to keep us amused.

Okay, to keep us from falling over in a coma. Cal should matter more than it does, but it’s been 13 years since the Holiday Bowl zenith of the Jeff Tedford Era, and 25 since Bruce Snyder took the Ursines to the Citrus Bowl. The evidence since 1990 is of a team with bigger dreams than means that is slightly below .500 (160-164). Sonny Dykes leaving means one more coach who didn’t make an impact unless his departure leads to either reassessment of the program’s standards, internal or external sanctions . . .

. . . or what the hell, Chip Kelly. Let’s face it – in these dismal days for wacked-out rumormongering, this is pretty intoxicating stuff.

Warriors are most geographically vague team in history of American sports


Warriors are most geographically vague team in history of American sports

The Philadelphia/San Francisco/Golden State Warriors have always had a casual attitude about their home court, even by the once-flexible standards of the National Basketball Association.

Thus, it should be only slightly amusing but not actually surprising that Warriors chief arenologist Rick Welts is now waffling a bit (courtesy Comrade Poole) on whether the team will change its name to San Francisco Warriors when it moves across the pond in 2019-20, or retain its current geographic association with Narnia.

I mean Golden State. I often confuse utterly fictional locales – when I can be bothered to give a toss either way.

But the Warriors, whether they play in Oakland, San Francisco, Pier 30, Pier 32, Westeros, Hobbiton, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, Curryvania, the Klingon Empire, the Death Star or Planet Nine, are relocating, and once they break the seal on the earth in 12 days, Welts and his fellow elves will almost surely play the team’s future name as a mildly tedious cliffhanger.

Hey, fun is where you find it.

The matter of the team’s relocation will be a sore subject among lifelong East Bay residents, who have put up with the Warriors for 45 years in various stages of development, including the current “We Almost Never Lose” stage. They regard the Warriors’ transplantation to San Francisco to be an unspeakable crime given the high level of fan allegiance afforded them in Oakland.

And yes, they regard Oakland and San Francisco as very real places, as opposed to Golden State, Freedonia, Vulgaria or the Nexus of All Realities.

It is not yet fully known what San Franciscans think of this development, but that’s the nature of the gamble here. They may embrace the Warriors as the new toy in town and then lose interest, and frankly, neither Welts nor anyone else knows the answer to that.

Either way, their die is cast, and Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are now future former Oakland fixtures. Yes, they are quite fond of the exciting new real estate values and their exciting new unobstructed view of the bay, but it has long been assumed that the move would also entail changing the name back to “San Francisco” for the snob appeal.

Now Welts, who has overseen both arena projects (including the one at Piers 30 and 32 which ended up with the piers beating the Warriors in a rout), tells Comrade Poole that the San Francisco Warriors might not end up as the San Francisco Warriors after all.

“Four years ago, I think the conventional wisdom in our building here in Oakland was that yes, we should attach a city name to the team, then it becomes a more global franchise,” Welts marketing-gobbledy-gooked. “There was a lot of head-scratching four years ago about where the Golden State Warriors even played, in other parts of the world. What’s happened with the team over the course of the ensuing years, until today, has made the Warriors if not the preeminent, at least among the three best-known NBA franchises around the world. And everybody who didn’t know where the Golden State Warriors were four years ago, if you’re a fan today, anywhere in the world, you know where the Golden State Warriors are.”

In Oakland.

Now, the mic drop.

“The team’s success has caused us to really rethink whether or not that’s something we should or want to do,” he added. “I guess it’s fair to say there’s been no final decision made. But if you were a betting man, I think you would probably want to wager that the name might remain the same.”

Of course. Why not stay fictional when specificity might move fewer hoodies?

Then again, this is a team that in its 70 years has played home games in Philadelphia (the Arena, the Civic Center, Lincoln High School and Convention Hall), Hershey and Bethlehem PA, Atlantic City, Trenton, Collingswood and Camden NJ, and Saratoga Springs NY . . .

(a moment’s rest here to catch our breaths)

. . . and then after moving west in 1962, the Cow Palace, San Francisco Civic Auditorium and USF’s Memorial Gym, the Oakland Auditorium, San Jose Civic Auditorium, San Jose Arena, Richmond Auditorium, then Sacramento, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Diego, Eugene, Seattle, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

In fact, and you can swindle the gullible at your neighborhood tavern with this one, the Warriors’ first game in San Francisco occurred almost three years before the team left Philadelphia. The Warriors played the visitors to the Minneapolis Lakers, who moved to Los Angeles a year later and had already played a regular season game at the Cow Palace earlier in the year, so this game, January 31, 1960, could have been considered a civic scouting trip for both teams as they sought new homes.

In other words, the Warriors are almost surely the most geographically vague team in the history of North American sports. Moreover, they are about to become the first team in sports history to go home for the third time under three different city names – Philadelphia, San Francisco and Krypton, or whatever the hell they want to call themselves this time.